At age 92, Henry Kissinger is a legend. Over decades, he has assiduously cultivated and constructed the image of the sagacious elder statesman. Corporate journalists hang on to his every word. Politicians seek his advice. But is the respect and reverence he receives deserved? He is one of the most notorious characters of this or any other period in history. Just ask the Kurds, the East Timorese, the Bangladeshis, the Laotians, the Chileans what they think of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. But since they are “unpeople,” their opinions don’t count. When he was Nixon’s national security advisor, Kissinger displayed his kowtowing to power when he kept silent as his boss made anti-Jewish comments. When Nixon demanded that Cambodia be bombed, he conveyed the order like a good errand boy. It was Kissinger who once boasted, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.”
Greg Grandin, professor of history at New York University, is the author of The Empire of Necessity, The Blood of Guatemala and Kissinger’s Shadow. A recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Public Library, he has served on the UN Truth Commission investigating the Guatemalan Civil War. His articles appear in the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, and The New York Times.